“40 is the new 30,” they say.
Actually, they don’t say that. Or at least I’ve never heard anyone say that. I certainly don’t say that. And I don’t say that because I’ve spent the last year being 40 years old, and I can tell you that it ain’t the new 30.
The really strange thing about the last year or so is that I have felt at times as though I have been going through a mild mid-life crisis. Little things have happened, like listening to music I haven’t listened to since high school or early university. I’m talking Phil Collins-era Genesis. Or searching on You Tube for clips of shows I haven’t seen in about as long. I’m talking about Late Night with David Letterman. When I do this it feels both like a glimpse back but also like recovering a part of myself that I’ve lost over time.
Perhaps more profoundly, I’ve had several occasions for reflection, for introspection. I’ve had moments when I wonder what I’ve accomplished. Have I made a difference with my life? Has what I’ve done made a significant impact on anyone else? Because, ultimately, I want to do something meaningful with the years I have. Ultimately, I want other people to benefit from the work I do. But I must confess: sometimes I wonder, has what I’ve been doing made a difference?
Even as a pastor, it’s easy to ask these kinds of questions. Maybe easier than some other professions because the results of what you do can be so much more intangible. How do you begin to measure whether a decade of preaching has made a difference to anyone? More than that, as a solo pastor of a small, rural church you can sometimes feel a little isolated and cut off from civilization. Lots of what I do involves solitude.
One of the really surprising realizations I’ve had is that there is no going back. 15 years ago—maybe even 10 years ago—I could have taken another direction, gone for a different vocation or career. Now, truly, if I were to find myself out of work as a pastor, I could very well have to get some education or training for another profession. But this is not something I’m looking to do. The upshot of all this is that the older you get the more, it seems, your options narrow. I mean, seriously, if I were to become unemployed, what company would hire me? What could I possibly be qualified to do? To whom would my resume be attractive?
I only bring this up because somewhere in the back of my mind there’s been this little voice that has said now and then, especially whenever I have felt, as another pastor described, ‘Monday-ish,’ “Well, if for some reason this pastoring gig doesn’t work out, you can do something else for the rest of your life.” However, I got to tell you, I have no idea what I would do if not for this current calling. I don’t know what I would do. Certainly God would provide me with the means to support my family. I’m not worried about that. It’s simply a sobering thought. This is it. This is who I am. This is what I do. Forever and ever amen.
Well, that’s not completely true. I have friends who have actually—through necessity and other reasons—gone from pastoral ministry to other professions and positions. But not everyone has the experience or training to do that. Still, I trust that God would open the right doors if I were ever to arrive at such a moment.
Anyway, reaching this point in my life feels kind of funny. It’s sort of like you never picture yourself the way you actually are. I’m (ahem) overweight, but when I think of myself I don’t think of myself that way. Similarly, I still feel or think of myself like I did when I was 30 (and sometimes younger). I think: aren’t I supposed to be mature now? Shouldn’t I be wearing Arnold Palmer clothes?
So tomorrow I turn 41. I guess it’s just a number. Besides, they say that 41 is the new 40. I like the sound of that.